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Dangerous intersections could use some attention

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The Mid-Mon Valley has its share of intersections that can be characterized as “accidents waiting to happen.”

Poor signage, old-style traffic lights, limited sight distance, outdated design, capacity issues and other physical factors increase odds of a crash.

There's not enough money to remedy all of the shortcomings. It still would not eliminate accidents caused by human error or mechanical failure.

But far fewer accidents would take place in the first place if drivers abided by rules of the road instead of being careless, impatient, impaired or distracted by activities like yakking on cell phones and texting.

Two Valley intersections in arguably greatest need of local and PennDOT attention are on Route 201 in Washington Township and Route 88 in Carroll Township.

Both sites have a road entering at an oblique angle instead of a conventional 90-degree angle. Despite signals, the skewed configurations with multiple traffic movements pose greater risk of accidents.

In Lynnwood, Fayette Street intersects at a “Y” while a residential street, Vernon Avenue, enters at a right-angle where they meet at Route 201, a state-owned highway carrying increasingly more vehicles traveling to and from restaurants, stores and shops nearby in Rostraver.

The intersection was the subject of a detailed front page article in The Valley Independent two months ago following the latest spate of accidents.

While PennDOT District 12 records listed only “five reportable accidents” over the past five years, including one fatality, they failed to reflect reality.

For example, over the past three years, Washington Township Volunteer Fire Department has answered 12 alarms to accidents there serious enough to require emergency response. “Locals” recall three fatalities since 2000.

PennDOT crash data also doesn't include reports written by municipal police for minor, non-injury accidents. Furthermore, parties involved in “fender-benders” often settle among themselves or through their auto insurance carriers.

As a result, more accidents occur at intersections than official paperwork shows, a flaw in statistical accounting.

In response to the Washington Township Supervisors' request for a traffic study at the Route 201/Fayette Avenue intersection, PennDOT advised them to utilize a grant that had been at their disposal for some time to replace existing 8-inch signal lights using incandescent bulbs that “get dimmer over time and become more difficult to notice” with brighter LED lights.

The township recently installed the LEDs, but traffic engineers said the old-style signal system should be replaced using new poles and mast arms to support more visible 12-inch LED lights and that a northbound Route 201 left-turn lane to Fayette Avenue should be considered to bring the intersection up to modern safety standards.

Because PennDOT has no such project in current plans, the supervisors were advised to be proactive and lobby to add the intersection upgrade to the regional transportation funding program.

Carroll Township Supervisors have gone down that road, so to speak, seeking reconstruction where Route 837 meets Route 88 at a slight angle at the busy intersection that also provides access to a Giant Eagle supermarket.

Public officials have promised to make a $3 million improvement for years, but scarce PennDOT funding and other priorities keep pushing back the project that would add turning lanes, improve drainage and install modern traffic signals.

It's the heaviest traveled intersection in Carroll. At certain times of the day, traffic backs up over the hill in both directions. Numerous accidents have occurred.

“It was antiquated when I started here 25 years ago,” Carroll Police Chief Paul Brand said. “I'd like to see the work done before my career ends.”

Besides heavy regular traffic on horse-and-buggy Route 88, the intersection handles traffic going to and from Mon Valley Hospital.

The latest schedule calls for PennDOT to undertake right-of-way and utility relocation tasks this year and begin an estimated $2.1 million construction contract in 2014.

We'll see.

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Thought du jour. Did you realize 53.7 percent of all statistics are made up?

Joe Grata is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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